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The refurbished Lord Nelson pub in Burnham Thorpe

(First published in the Kedge Anchor in 2021)

We had the pleasure of a family lunch in the recently re-opened Lord Nelson pub in Burnham Thorpe, on Monday 23rd August. Once the local drinking house of Lord Nelson and his family, the pub reopened on the 3rd June after a five-year closure. Its fate had been uncertain until Holkham Estate purchased it in July 2019, and invested £1 million in restoring it, and building an extension. 

We were seated in this new extension for our much-anticipated lunch. I felt it appropriate to order the Lord Nelson burger. The building was dim-lit, airy, and clean, with a high, timber-clad apexed roof whose beam ran the length of the extension from the original pub building at the far end, to a wall emblazoned with Lord Nelson’s crest, giant-sized and gold-framed, above a bank of glass panes. French doors beneath the Nelson’s crest opened onto a neat patio and grassy garden beyond studded with wooden picnic tables. Inside, our table was tucked into the corner to the left of the garden doors. The interior was a stylish mix of traditional wooden beams, glitzy chandeliers, and a sleek modern industrial vibe. The space, despite it’s slickness, succeeded in feeling like a village barn arrayed with Nelson-themed framed artwork and other embellishments. For example, the backs of the chairs flanking a room-length central table were upholstered with sewn, coloured-leather replicating the numeric flags of Nelson’s famous command, “England expects that every man will do his duty”. The overall effect felt tasteful, creative and fun. The natural daylight filtering in through the many windows created a shadowy, lowkey atmosphere. My only reserve was that the decor’s industrial chic created something of a city bistro vibe, possibly incongruent with the pub’s history and rural setting.

We had fun after lunch hunting out Nelson and Emma artworks around the pub, of which there were plenty to be found. Landlady Sue explained, “We want there to be references to Nelson around the pub, but without it feeling like a shrine to him.”

Although the Lord Nelson reopened in early June 2021, Sue and her husband, Phil, had not been its initial managers. The couple had started running it just six-weeks prior to our visit. To add to their stress, they had been forced-closed for a third of this time after both they and their chef tested positive for COVID-19. 

Sue says she feels the pub needs managers who appreciate both its history, and its importance to people interested in Nelson. She was proud to elaborate that she and her husband had managed pubs for thirty-five tears, and been awarded west Norfolk pub of the year by EDP in 2015.

In the front of the pub, beyond the new extension, the brace of bar rooms have been carefully restored, with their distinctive, original cerise wall paint replicated. The restoration here, with stone paved flooring, felt sensitive. Sue was excited to show me a mural uncovered during the restoration of the right-hand room. Taking up the entire wall, it depicts a nighttime scene of the British navy destroying a French vessel. Although the date of the painting is uncertain, it’s thought to depict the fiery destruction of L’Orient.

Preserved in the left-hand bar is the hatch through which Nelson himself would have been served ale; and also, through a little door, the same stairs he ascended to hold a council serenaded by the enthusiastic cheers of villagers crowded on the inn’s forecourt. Sue told us that this staircase has proved too narrow for them to fit the bulk of their furniture through (including their bed) so the majority has been left in storage in an outhouse in front of the pub. This little building, she told us, is being converted into a Nelson museum by Woodforde’s Brewery, who hold the license for the Lord Nelson. There is hope that the pub’s lost Nelson memorabilia will be reclaimed from an imminently-closing museum in Lowestoft, and that this new Burnham Thorpe Nelson museum will be opened by the end of this year.